Why Israel's army just demolished half of this house

The building in the West Bank houses an extended Palestinian family in which one brother, a Hamas operative and former prisoner, is accused of the murder of an Israeli police officer.

Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP
Palestinian inspect the home of Palestinian Ziad Awad in the town of Idna,13 kilometers (8 miles) west of the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Israel demolished on Wednesday the West Bank home of Ziad Awad, who it accuses of having killed an Israeli police officer in April.

Israeli soldiers demolished today the greater part of a two-story house in the West Bank town of Idna, reviving a policy of punishing the families of militants for their crimes. The house was formerly occupied by Ziyad Awad, a Hamas operative whom Israel accuses of the April. 14 killing of an Israeli police officer. 

Mr. Awad's extended family, including his wife and five children, and his brother, Mohammed, had appealed the demolition order. Israel's Supreme Court ruled this week that the military could proceed, but that parts of the building inhabited by Mohammed and his family should be spared.  

The Monitor's Ben Lynfield reported last week on the family's plight and the controversy over Israel's demolition policy. 

Under Israeli law, the family has the right to contest the demolition notice. HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group representing the Awads, has filed an appeal to the army. If, as expected, this is unsuccessful, the family has 48 hours to petition Israel's Supreme Court. Dalia Kerstein, executive director of HaMoked, says the court has never completely cancelled a demolition. In some cases it has ruled that only part of the targeted house can be destroyed or that the house be sealed so that it cannot be inhabited, she says.

[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu frames the impending demolition as an expansion of an antiterrorism drive in the wake of the high-profile kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank earlier this month. Israel says Hamas, a militant group that recently joined a unity Palestinian government, is behind the kidnapping. 

While Ziyad Awad isn't implicated in the kidnapping, his arrest has drawn additional attention in Israel because of his past: He's a convicted murderer of Palestinians he viewed as collaborators with Israel. He was released from jail in 2011 under a prisoner swap for the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit.

On Thursday, only a hot plate and a mirror were still in Ziyad Awad's apartment in Idna, a town near Hebron with a population of about 25,000 Palestinians. The family had moved out all the furniture and even removed the windows, anticipating the army bulldozer. Mohammed Awad, a carpenter, said he, not his brother, owns the building. ''If they destroy my house they will destroy me and my family,'' he says.

Lynfield reports that during the second Palestinian Intifada, Israel demolished hundreds of houses as punishment. The army later concluded that it wasn't an effective deterrent. 

''They were stopped because the system reached the conclusion they are not effective and I doubt they provide deterrence,'' says Gadi Zohar, a retired brigadier general and former head of the military administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.''It doesn't bring the results. It increases hatred.''

Now, Israel says demolitions are necessary to deter future attacks. ''On the Palestinian side there are all sorts of incentives that support acts of terrorism,'' says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu. He says that the Palestinian Authority gives generous payments to families of people who are in jail for committing attacks.

''There is a financial incentive to be involved in violence when you know that your family will be set for life. The social incentive is that people who carry out attacks are viewed as heros. Demolition can make it a more even playing field, dis-incentivize attacks and provide deterrence.''

According to the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Ziyad Awad shot and killed Israeli police officer Baruch Mizrachi and wounded his wife and child near Hebron on April 14. The Shin Bet said that Ziyad Awad's teenage son, Izzedin, who is also in custody, knew in advance of the killing and was told by his father that ''according to Islam whoever kills a Jew goes to paradise.''

... Ziyad Awad served 12 years of a 30-year sentence for killing Palestinians perceived to be collaborators with Israel. In 2011 he walked free, one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Sgt. Shalit, who was being held by Hamas. 

''When he was freed, I told him that's enough, eat your bread, raise your family, and live your life,'' says Khaled Awad, the oldest of four brothers and a former mayor of Idna. ''And he told me I will not do anything. The whole village believes this [murder accusation] is a fabrication.''


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